Sunday, February 05, 2006

Evansville Courier & Press Hypocrisy

The Evansville Courier & Press opened a can of worms up this last week by reporting twice on photos the 19-year old daughter of Vanderburgh County Sheriff Brad Ellsworth had posted on the Internet showing her illegal consumption of alcohol. In an editorial today, the paper says "Leave it alone. It is a family matter."

The Courier & Press reported on the photos of Ellsworth's daughter after a Republican supporter of Rep. John Hostettler and blogger at Indiana Barrister, Joshua Claybourn, brought the photos to the attention of the newspaper. Claybourn thought it hypocritical that a family member of the sheriff who is charged with enforcing underage drinking laws could publicly flaunt her own violation while other violators are arrested and prosecuted. Ellsworth, a Democrat, is challenging Hostettler to represent the 8th district of Indiana in Congress.

It seems hypocritical for the Courier & Press to tell Hostettler supporters that they should leave this issue alone because it is a family matter is a bit hypocritical after it first brought the issue to the attention of the 8th district voters by running two stories on the subject. If it truly believes what it writes on its editorial pages, then why did the paper make the issue of Ellsworth's underage drinking a public matter in the first instance. Shame on the Courier & Press.

7 comments:

Mack Simmons said...

You got to remember that the news side and the opinion side are two different ends of the paper and often don't communicate with one another. Essentially the editorialists, who have the mission of arguing for a position, may actually find themselves at odds with the reporters on the news side, who make digging up news their business. So it isn't really a hypocracy, but a set of contradictions within the same paper.

This is tough for those who don't work in a newspaper to understand; there is this tendency to think of the editorial page and the news pages as being one and the same. But they aren't. They have separate missions and duties to their readership and therefore, different ideas altogether.

Advance Indiana said...

An editor decides whether a story gets printed or not. An editor made a decision that this story should become a matter of public record, and then tells the rest of us to leave it alone.

Mack Simmons said...

Perhaps if you knew anything about newspapers, you wouldn't be so simplistic in your thought. Let's explain further.

An editor on the news side isn't the editor on the opinion page; they're usually not in the same room or sitting in each other's meetings. Knowing that matters because blaming the editorial page editors and staff for what the news side editors decide to do is senseless. In many cases, the opinion page reports not to an editor-in-chief, but to the publisher, who may not always know what runs in the paper the next day.

Now if you're displeased that the opinion editorial board doesn't call out their colleagues on the news side, then that's understandable. But calling the editorial board hypocritical for decisions that they don't make is simply stupid and a sign that the person making that statement is clueless about how newspapers work.

Perhaps you should actually talk to an editorial writer and ask how these things work, you might gain a better perspective. Choose not to do so and you will get a perspective that's senseless.

Advance Indiana said...

It's pointless arguing with you. If you think a story involving an important local official like this story ran without the approval of the person who controls the paper's editorial content, then you are totally naive.

Mack Simmons said...

And the problem is that you don't actually understand how a newspaper works. The news side and the opinion side are in essence separate organizatons within one. The guy who writes an editorial (editorial page editor and editorial writers) are not the same people who write news articles. So in essence the commentary end has nothing to do with the news end. In many cases, the editor-in-chief isn't even the person overseeing commentary. So arguing a hypocracy argument is senseless when you consider the actual organization.

Once again, the problem here is that you don't work in newspapers, don't understand how they operate, don't understand the separations between the opinion and news sides and therefore, are ill-equipped to make any educated comment. Yes it's pointless arguing with me, but only because I know the business and you don't and it's obvious from your comments. Perhaps if you bothered, let's say, calling an editorial page editor from the Courier or an editorial writer from the Star and discussing this, you would learn something. But since you choose ignorance instead, then your opinions are ignorant.

taking down words said...

Mack,

As a former newspaper reporter, I hope you won't use the moderately rude "go learn something" argument with me that you used on Gary.

Obviously newspaper editors and newspaper editorial writers are two separate groups. Duh.

The point here is that the editors on the news side made a bad call. This wasn't news; it was a morally low slime job by a Hostettler backer, and someone should've at least thought to himself or herself, "Say, there's probably a hidden motive for this Josh guy forwarding these photos; I wonder what it is."

Instead, the paper rushed the story forward without thinking.

Two days later, the editorial side of things caught up with its tail and attempted to half-justify, half-dismiss the story.

Again, we all know that the editorial writers aren't the reporters. However, if you work for a newspaper, you know that the decision to run a story like this one usually can be traced up the chain.

The executive editor, who plays a role, albeit often ceremonial, on the editorial board, probably knew this was coming and had reason for publishing it.

Though we don't know the extent of opinion in the newsroom, it's not improbable to guess that the paper had a change of heart after it published the original story.

Looking at the second day folo, it's pretty obvious they got bombarded with phone calls from people who were irate over it.

No one's arguing that the editorial board and the metro editors don't play roles that, if not always separate, are at least different. But in this case, I think it's justified to heap a little blame on the paper as a whole.

This story was a disgrace, and my stance would be no different if Hostettler's daughter were the one in the photos. Tabloid crap.

Mack Simmons said...

And as someone who was in the business, you should also know better that the executive editor doesn't always sit on the board in any capacity (the Wall Street Journal, for example, where Paul Steiger isn't an editorial board member) and in any case, may not necessarily be communicating to the editorial board about anything. As you should also know, newspapers are as bureaucratic as some government agencies; the left hand isn't always in tune with the right hand. Thus in any case, editorial board stances are often made without necessarily considering the tender mercies of the news side, who may not be too happy with what's said by editorialists in that case (knowing them, they're never happy with where the editorial page lands anyway.)

The point ultimately, TDW (or shoot from the hip for Democrats, as you should be called) is that taking the editorial page to task for what the news side does is absolutely ridiculous. And as a former reporter, you should know better than to buy into Welsh's tossing of every section of the newspaper into a problem that resides with the newsroom alone. The news side should have never ran that story; it was as worthy of news coverage as the swatting of a horsefly.

But editorial pages do have their own independence of mind and often take positions contrary to the news coverage. That's the job of those pages. Taking aim at the editorial page for the sins of the news side shows is just silly.

As for the story itself, one can only say that Mr. Claybourn, being a relatively young man, will one day live to regret his decision. Life has a funny way of reminding you that you're no more perfect than the next guy, that your dirt is as easy to pick over as anyone else's. So one should be circumspect in digging up meaningless dirt.